There are a lot of unknowns in and about this late-1880s photo, but it could be the earliest surviving look into Ballard.

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THIS WEEK’S FEATURE might be the earliest surviving look into Ballard. Beyond that, we know little about the photo, which we believe was taken in the late 1880s. We wonder who lived in the 30 or so minimal structures barely distinguished through the soft focus and smoke. The white vapors most likely are from stump fires.

The photo’s focus might be the responsibility of the age of the print, the camera or the person who held it. We don’t know the photographer’s name, nor are we certain of the community’s name at the time of the recording. However, “Farmdale” is scribbled on the flip side of the worn print I first studied.

Farmdale was Ballard’s first, short-lived name. In 1889, Ballard got its second name, Gilman Park. The once-forested acres that gently sloped south to the north shore of Salmon Bay were divided into hundreds of residential lots and a few larger ones for the factories that were soon strung along the Salmon Bay shoreline. Daniel Hunt Gilman was one of a quartet of robust capitalists who organized the ambitiously named West Coast Improvement Company to develop the site.

The place was extraordinarily fit for building a community for sawyers, not farmers. Judge Thomas Burke, another of the ruling quartet, was happy to give up his bucolic visions of gardens in Farmdale for factories. In four or five chop-chop years, the mill town became “The Shingle Capital of the World,” and more often than not, it smelled like cedar.

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With its 1890 incorporation came the third try at naming, and the citizens chose Ballard. It was given in thanks for William Rankin Ballard, the steamboat captain who, before the railroad made it to Salmon Bay, regularly delivered settlers and their needed supplies to its shores. Capt. Ballard was another of the company’s quartet. The fourth was capitalist John Leary.

Of the two waterways shining in our “then” photo, Salmon Bay is the nearer one. The other is Elliott Bay. The wide headland on the horizon is West Seattle. Right of center, the highest elevation in the panorama is “High Point,” the top of Seattle. It’s about 9 miles south of the Ballard waterfront and about 510 feet above it. Magnolia is on the right and Queen Anne Hill on the left, with the lowland, Interbay, between them. Left of center, at the southwest corner of Queen Anne Hill, the old-growth trees of Kinnear Park stand out — and up. For a formality of one dollar, its namesake sold Kinnear Park to Seattle in fall 1887.

Our featured photo is printed on page 24 of the illustrated history “Passport To Ballard, The Centennial Story.” The caption there reads, “The Gilman Park community on Salmon Bay, on the eve of incorporation. This is one of the earliest known photographs of the community. Old notes identify the street as 22nd Avenue N.W.”

Photographer Jean Sherrard and I think this likely. We chose Northwest 57th Street as the site for the “Now” photo to fill in for the graded path and planked boardwalk that run behind the surviving fir tree on the left in the “Then” photo.